Trump Makes a Play for the Youth Vote

By Adeline Von Drehle
Published On: Last updated 06/14/2024, 02:20 AM EDT

Former President Donald Trump is making a play for the youth vote as recent polling shows him edging ahead of President Joe Biden, who overwhelmingly carried the youth vote with about 60% support in 2020. Both candidates are desperately trying to capture the votes of country’s youngest voters in what is likely to remain a neck-and-neck race: Trump currently leads Biden by 0.4 points in the RCP Average.

A recent NPR survey found that just one-third (32%) of Americans aged 18-26 said they would back Biden if the election were held today – or about half of his 2020 support. Worse for Biden, he is trailing behind Trump by 1 point; the poll suggests 33% of young voters would vote for the former president. Significantly, 34% of respondents said they would vote for a third-party candidate.

Another recent poll, this one from Quinnipiac, shows that Trump is up 1 point over Biden among voters aged 18-34. When asked whom they would vote for if the election were held today, 48% of young people answered Trump and 47% answered Biden.

The youth vote hasn’t been close since Al Gore beat George W. Bush by just 2 points in 2000, according to an Axios survey. Trump would be the first Republican to win the youth vote since George H.W. Bush in 1988, making the victory a once-in-a-generation win for the GOP.

These numbers are deeply troubling for the Biden campaign, which has pulled out all the stops to retain the youth bloc of his Democratic coalition. Some of Biden’s moves to connect with younger voters include his plan for student debt relief, stressing the importance of abortion rights, and expanding his social media presence

Still, the president has struggled to maintain the confidence of young voters heading into the November election. Young people are struggling to remain afloat as the cost of living outpaces wage increases, despite the fact that America has a relatively strong economy. A CNN poll from late April showed that 62% of 18-24-year-olds are dissatisfied with their personal financial situations – the only age group in which a majority of individuals are unhappy with their bank accounts.

Another oft-cited reason for Biden’s dip in support among young people is the Israel-Hamas conflict. It’s true that the protests that roiled college campuses across the country this spring were bad for Biden on both sides of the political aisle. Hundreds of thousands of registered Democrats cast ballots for “uncommitted” over the last four months of primary elections, to protest Biden’s continued support of the Israeli government.

Yet data from the NPR poll shows that the war in Gaza ranks relatively low among Americans’ concerns. Respondents were asked which issue is most important to them when thinking about the upcoming presidential election. Most were anxious about inflation (18%), followed by economic growth (11%), the state of democracy (9%), income inequality (8%), abortion (7%), immigration (7%), poverty (6%), health care (4%), taxes (4%), and the war in Gaza (4%).

In its recent poll, Quinnipiac asked voters whom they thought would do a better job handling the economy – Biden or Trump – regardless of how they intend to vote. Trump performed significantly better than Biden among total voters, receiving 54% support compared to Biden’s 42% support. The real shock, however, comes when that question is broken down by age group: 66% of voters aged 18-34 think Trump would do a better job of handling the economy, while only 29% of young voters feel the same way about Biden.

Young voters trend liberal on social issues. But they might be willing to sacrifice their ideals if they think it could lower the cost of their rent and groceries. If Trump can capitalize on his image as the magic genie of the American economy, he might just get the support of this key demographic.

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